The old rule that the front yard is for the public and the backyard is for fun and family is sometimes better broken. Is your front yard the sunniest in a cool climate? The coolest in summer? On the south side where tender plants and fruit can best survive the cold? The largest part of your yard? Then reclaim some or all of it for private family use. A wall, fence, or sometimes only a small screen can give you the privacy you need.
Pay particular attention when planning your front yard to making your home’s entrance clear and inviting. Use plants and structures to lead people where you can greet them most gracefully. Dramatize the front door with a lamppost, an accent shrub, a trellis to block the rain or wind, or pots of geraniums.
Be sure knockers and bells are evident, at a convenient height, and not hidden behind a locked screen door. The best stoops are large enough for two people to stand on with some cover from the elements and for doors to swing open. A bench here is a great help.
Driveways, too, should be readily visible. A simple, low planting can mark the turn. If trees or shrubs obstruct the view, remove them for safety’s sake. Where curves or slopes are involved, the placement of the driveway on one side of the yard or another can make a marked increase in visibility.
For night arrivals, lighting should mark the turn from the road to the drive, from the drive to the walk, any curves or steps, and the front door.
Make steps as wide as the walks they connect. Steps should be emphatic and noticeable. A plant accent can help. So can a change of texture. Never use just one step. If the slope is that slight, use a ramp. Three steps are the ideal minimum, though two are acceptable.
Check regularly that your steps are safe and not slick in snow or rain. Try to create at least one stepless entrance into your house for wheelchair visitors or possible future or emergency use. Or make conditional plans for a ramp, avoiding any plantings that would interfere.
Using Edges and Borders
Edgings give an important and neat outline to your yard, as well as dramatic contrasts of form, texture, and color. For permanent neatness, build in small concrete curbs; set bricks on edge, on end, or diagonally; lay landscape timbers; stand flagstones or tiles on edge; or install one of the ready-made edgings available in garden centers. Metal or rubber strips are less lovely, but they are inexpensive and serviceable.
Borders of flowers, bulbs, or ground covers can be used with, or instead of, other edgings. Use the plants with the proper ultimate spread and good year-round appearance. Don’t set the plants so close to the walk that they overgrow it.
Creating an Attractive Front
Every house facade and site have visual assets and liabilities. The well-done front yard highlights the pleasing points and masks the poor ones.
All the elements of good design come into play as you arrange your component parts for the ideal front yard. But don’t be put off by the aesthetic terms—balance, scale, unity, and the like—used by designers. All are largely a matter of common sense. If a scene pleases your eye, then it’s probably well designed.
Choose a Theme or Style
If your house needs or will adapt to your desire for a special theme garden like colonial, cottage, Oriental, or Spanish, the look must begin in the front yard. Themes are successful only if you unify all the garden aspects carefully.
You’ll also need to determine if your preference is for, and your site demands, a formal or informal landscape. Formal garden settings include strong geometric lines and architectural features, clipped hedges, and uniformly shaped plants and beds. Informal designs are marked by free-flowing, natural-looking elements. Generally, informal home styles and sloping land require less rigid landscapes. Formal houses and flat land can be treated either way.
Balance Landscape Elements
To achieve balance in a landscape, try to position elements so they give equal weight—through size, color, texture, or other aspects—to each side of a scene. How formal this weighting should be again is dictated by the style of house and personal preference. Symmetrical houses often look best when each feature and plant is duplicated on the opposite side of a front walk (as long as the walk isn’t too long or too narrow). Most houses, though, are asymmetrical, since they have only one garage or drive. In this case, balance is more subtle. Perhaps a tall tree belongs on the side opposite the driveway.
Pay Attention to Size
Achieving pleasant scale—or, keeping elements in proportion to each other—is also subtle, since plants must grow before you can be sure. Choose plants that will complement your home’s size at maturity, as well as some plants that will grow fast enough to quickly make a mark. Don’t let anything dwarf your house.
Keep It Simple
The design principles of unity and simplicity often go together. Several plants of the same color and kind have more effect and give greater pleasure in a landscape than one each of several types. Use only enough variety for sustaining bloom and adding visual interest.